My hands were sweating profusely, and I was literally experiencing shortness of breath as I prepared to go in front of the judge. The court room was packed, yet silent, adding to the tension. At any moment, I felt like I might throw up, and I was a licensed attorney appearing on behalf of a client. Since that first court appearance, I have appeared countless times in front of judges, but I have never forgotten how scary it can be, particularly for the uninitiated.
Navigating through the complex legal landscape of a divorce can be an incredibly daunting task, particularly for those who have not received legal training. Despite that fact, many couples choose to manage their own divorces in Colorado to save on attorney fees or to maintain control over the process. However, handling your own divorce, or handling it “pro se,” can lead to costly errors. Here are my picks for the top five most common mistakes I have seen couples make when handling their own divorces in Colorado.
- Failing to Understand Colorado’s Divorce Laws
One of the key concepts in Colorado law that is most often misunderstood is that Colorado follows an “equitable distribution” model, which means the court divides marital property in a manner that it deems fair, not necessarily equally. Pro se parties often assume that assets will be split 50/50, and often that is what happens. However, the court considers several factors such as each spouse’s financial situation, contributions to the marital property (including contributions as a homemaker), and the economic circumstances of each spouse at the time of the division. Misunderstanding these nuances can lead to an unfair distribution of the assets.
Additionally, Colorado is a no-fault divorce state, meaning the parties do not need to prove that their spouse was at fault to get a divorce. Nevertheless, some individuals waste valuable time and resources trying to prove the other spouse’s misconduct. Such behavior elevates the tension and acrimony between the parties and often draws out the divorce process unnecessarily.
- Failure to Understand the Rules
You have heard people say “Objection, hearsay” in movies and on TV shows, but what exactly is hearsay evidence? How long do you have to file a response to a motion filed by the other party? Whether you are an attorney or not, you are expected to know the rules of evidence as well as the rules of procedure and to comply with both. Knowing the rules can help you keep out evidence that could be damning to your case. Not knowing the rules can result in your case being dismissed.
- Neglecting Financial Disclosures
Full and transparent financial disclosures are essential in the divorce process. One of the most common mistakes I see pro se parties make is not thoroughly disclosing or understanding all financial assets and liabilities. This may include income, properties, retirement funds, business interests, debts, and more. Failing to fully understand and disclose these elements can lead to sanctions such as not being allowed to present evidence at trial, or the party being held in contempt. Additionally, parties who fail to disclose leave themselves open for the other party to motion for the court to reopen the case and redistribute the property at a later date.
- Overlooking Tax Consequences
Failure to understand the law about how Divorcing parties often overlook the tax implications of their decisions. Certain assets, for example, can carry significant tax liabilities. A party who is awarded a pre-tax retirement account in the divorce will have to pay ordinary state and federal income tax on the balance when it is withdrawn. Additionally, a party who receives stock or other investments may owe accumulated capital gains taxes. Without the guidance of a professional, these tax consequences can be missed, leading to unexpected financial burdens down the line.
- Poorly Drafted Parenting Plans
Colorado law emphasizes the best interests of the child when determining parenting time (often called “custody” in other states). Parties handling their own divorces often create parenting plans without fully understanding the legal implications or the practical matters they should consider. Once a parenting plan is adopted by the court, it becomes an order of the court, and a court can find parties in contempt for not following that order. A poorly constructed parenting plan can lead to confusion, ongoing disputes, additional strain on the children involved, and the need to return to court for clarification.
If you choose to handle your divorce pro se, it is essential to fully understand Colorado’s divorce laws and the rules associated with those laws, to carefully consider all financial and tax implications, and to draft a well-thought-out parenting plan. By being aware of these common mistakes, you can better prepare yourself for the complexities of a pro se divorce in Colorado. However, if you find yourself in a bind, please reach out to the experts at Ascent Legal Group, and we can help you achieve the kind of results you are looking for.